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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2003

Kerry fires head of troubled drive for nomination

BY MAEVE RESTON
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - Onetime Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts announced yesterday that he had asked his campaign manager to step down

It was the latest of several staff shakeups for Mr. Kerry, who has struggled since the summer to compete with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean s surge in popularity and fund-raising.

In an e-mail message yesterday morning, Mr. Kerry said he had decided to replace longtime aide Jim Jordan with Democratic political operative Mary Beth Cahill, who has strong ties to Mr. Kerry s home state and who worked as an aide to President Bill Clinton. Until this weekend, Ms. Cahill was chief of staff for Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Donna Brazile, campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore in 2000, described Ms. Cahill as a well-connected, “rising star” in the Democratic Party who would fit easily into the Kerry campaign.

Mr. Kerry said he had asked Mr. Jordan to stay on as a senior strategist. Mr. Jordan did not comment yesterday, and aides said it was unclear whether he would stay with the campaign.

Since this summer, the Kerry campaign has tried to quiet reports about tensions between the senator s Washington and Massachusetts advisers.

The conflict leaped into public view in early September during Mr. Kerry s official campaign launch in South Carolina and Iowa, when it was reported that the two factions had suggested very different approaches for the event.

At that time, some criticized the Kerry campaign for not responding quickly enough as Mr. Dean gained momentum in the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, eclipsing Mr. Kerry as the Democratic frontrunner.

Reports cited tussles within the campaign about whether Mr. Kerry should broaden the focus of his campaign beyond his biography as a “citizen soldier” and whether he should have been more aggressive in taking on Mr. Dean. Mr. Kerry had to spend much of his launch defending the stability of his campaign.

His communications director, Chris Lehane, a key aide to Mr. Gore in 2000, resigned two weeks later and signed on with Gen. Wesley Clark s campaign.

In the last two months, Mr. Kerry has become increasingly shrill in his criticism of Mr. Dean s policies, campaign decisions and what he regards as flip-flops.

But recent polls suggest Mr. Dean is widening his lead in New Hampshire and Mr. Kerry is lagging in third place in Iowa, where Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Mr. Dean are wrestling for the top spot.

Mr. Kerry held a 45-minute telephone conference call on Sunday to discuss the firing with aides, many of whom had been hired by Mr. Jordan and who were described by participants in the meeting as distraught and unsettled by this latest instance of turmoil to beset the Kerry campaign, the New York Times reported.

Rather than calming the waters, three people who took part in the call said, Mr. Kerry was pummeled for nearly an hour by campaign aides who asked if Mr. Jordan was becoming a scapegoat for the candidate s shortcomings.

Political strategists said yesterday the decision to replace Mr. Jordan with Ms. Cahill will give the campaign a chance to regroup and clarify its message before the critical contests in Iowa and New Hampshire on Jan. 19 and Jan. 27, respectively.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Maeve Reston is a reporter for The Post-Gazette.



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